Part 2 of 5: Manage Your Email Daily

This is part of the series entitled, The Four Skills Every Executive Needs to Practice

In Part 1, I outlined the why behind this series- we have tons of executives who lack the necessary skills needed to lead.  Grad school doesn't prepare them.  Mentors are usually hands off and infrequent.  

What's a rising executive to do?

Part 2 deals with the first skill and it has to do with email.  

The truth is that email is part of the noise that we all face in everyday life.  We face more noise today than ever before:

  • Email
  • Voicemail
  • Snailmail (remember that?)
  • TV watching
  • Web surfing
  • Social media
  • And much more...

Email above all is critical for executives.  The bad news is that it is also a problem.  Here's why:

a) Email is still the primary means for communicating to groups and individuals.

b) Most people have poor email routines, making email less effective than it should be.

c) Email is cheap and easy, thus flooding our inboxes with a deluge of both important and non-important bits of information.

There is a ton of great advice when it comes to email, some of which I'll provide at the end of this article.  Some productivity gurus will promote getting to "inbox zero" daily.  The problem with this is that it's probably unrealistic and might be unnecessary.  

The real problem is that most young executives deal with email in one of two ways:

  1. They deal with it all of the time, smattering their day with a habit of "checking".  This not only makes the day totally choppy but it creates an addiction to new mail.  
  2. They deal with it so infrequently that they miss critical pieces of information.

You might be thinking- "what's the big deal"?  "So I don't do email all that well... what's the problem with that?"

The thing is this: email represents us to those around us.  A real example- a colleague of mine missed an important email once, resulting in a missed meeting which was an important opportunity for the colleague.  

The other reason why email is so important is that people judge us based on our email habits.  Now, I'm not saying that you'll get a promotion based on how you handle email.  But, you might not get that promotion is you build a reputation for being disorganized and unresponsive.  Fair or unfair, folks judge us based on how we handle (or don't handle) email.

The following strategies are recommended in order to take a reasonable approach to email:

  1. Decide to tackle email only twice a day.  Once in the morning and another time later in the afternoon.  
  2. Get to zero once a week.  This may be part of your weekly review but be sure to get your inbox cleared out once a week.  Zero, none, nada.  I'm serious.
  3. Learn how to use email to your advantage.  Only send emails about one topic.  Be brief and to the point.  Avoid emailing groups unless you absolutely have to.
  4. Know when a phone call is better than an email.  If you need to say a lot, pick up the phone.  If you don't want something in writing, pick up the phone.  

Now that you have the four key strategies, here are some supplemental materials that might be helpful as you tackle email and get it under control: